Editor’s note: Carla Trussell, a member of the Stephenville City Council, issued a statement to the E-T on Tuesday concerning Mayor Kenny Weldon’s Hotel Occupancy Tax proposal he plans to make at tonight’s city council meeting. The following is Trussell’s statement in its entirety.
As a council member, I am quite frankly perplexed by the mayor's statement to the press regarding the HOT tax. The mayor's contention that the recommendation to discontinue funding of the visitor center through Chamber had never been discussed by the full council before the November 7th vote is just not accurate. (The HOT tax is a 7 cent tax that is collected from visitors to the city's hotels and motels and can only be used to promote tourism in Stephenville).
The Chamber's approximate $250,000 budget from memberships and fundraisers is not affected by this separate budget that can only be used for tourism.
HISTORY of COUNCIL'S DISCUSSIONS of FUNDING VISITOR CENTER THROUGH the CHAMBER
Aug. 14 - Council discussed distribution of HOT tax. The decision was made to move the approximately $240,000 in the budget to undesignated instead of designating it to the Chamber. Aug. 15 - The city manager discussed the council's decision to move the funds to an undesignated line in the budget with Chamber president, July Danley. At this point the Chamber knew their tourism funds were in jeopardy. Aug. 31 - The council had a work session on the visitor center funds. The majority of the Chamber board attended and Kim Pack Wilson and July Danley presented a PowerPoint regarding the Chamber's activities in an attempt to persuade the council to restore Chamber visitor center funds. Sept. 12 - Chamber Board Member Greg Bruner appeared before the council and asked the council to continue to provide visitor center funding to the Chamber for an additional year. In a 5-2 vote, the council voted to only extend funding through Dec. 31. Oct. 10 - Councilwoman Sherry Zachery gave a report to council on a committee she was heading to investigate how the council should proceed with HOT tax funds. Oct. 26 - A council work session was held to discuss the allocation of the HOT tax funds to fund a visitor center. Nov. 2 - Councilwoman Zachery met with Greg Bruner, July Danley, and City Administrator Allen Barnes about Chamber's continued role as visitor center. Ms. Zachery told them she would not recommend continuing their funding past Dec. 31. Nov. 7 - The council voted not to continue to fund the visitors' center past Dec. 31. The vote was 6-2 to discontinue funding. The whole council met about the HOT tax disbursement at least five times. I do not understand how the mayor was surprised when we had moved the funds to undesignated in August and had voted in September to fund the Chamber visitor center only until December 31.
In fact, as far back as February, the Chamber was told there was a possibility they could lose some of the HOT tax funding and concerns were expressed by council members at that time regarding Chamber's expenditures of the funds and other concerns (the expense of Chamber staff representing Stephenville at the National Rodeo Finals in Las Vegas for 8 days, the Chamber Vice President living in Montana...)
As a councilwoman, it is imperative that I be a good steward of public funds. The HOT tax funds may only be used to promote tourism in Stephenville and increase hotel stays in our local hotels.
Texas Tax Code Section 351 is very specific regarding those expenditures and our city manager is very capable of ensuring compliance with state law. Ultimately, I am dissatisfied with the return on the $240,000 investment through the Chamber and feel that a new direction is needed.
Several council members have researched what other cities are doing to promote tourism and because of that research are convinced we can enthusiastically and successfully promote our city through the establishment of a city run visitor bureau! I feel that the city can more effectively employ a tourism coordinator whose sole focus is promoting tourism in our city, not promoting Chamber membership. The city having control of the funds gives us oversight as to how the funds are spent.
At the November 14th council work session, council instructed the city manager and staff to write a resolution creating a City Tourism and Visitors Bureau.
The surprise is that Mayor Weldon created his own HOT tax proposal without discussing it with the full council in work session or without direction from the council and submitted it only approximately 4 days before the council meeting.
Mayor Weldon's proposal calls for the council to once again vote on extending the tourism agreement with Chamber past Dec. 31. The council has already voted that down twice. Why is the mayor unwilling to accept the council's decision? The resolution being presented by the mayor appears to be an effort by the mayor to circumvent the will of the council.